Thursday, March 13, 2003

Buttercups for Jesus: Reflecting His Light in Your Life by Nancy Marie

Booklocker, 1591132991, $11.95

Perhaps you did it once as a child. You and a friend romped in the backyard or through a grassy spot at a neighboring park and came across a patch of bright yellow flowers. Your friend plucks a buttercup from the ground and holds it under your tilted chin, looking for the yellow reflection that indicates your fondness of butter. An innocent scene, yet one powerful enough to inspire Christian author Nancy Marie to create an allegory between these fields of flowers and her desire to better serve the Lord. In her devotional Buttercups for Jesus, Marie touches upon various points in her Christian life and how she struggles to reflect Christ's love, thereby making the proverbial buttercup something more than the weed most perceive it to be.

Buttercups is not a long book, clocking in around 100 pages, yet in this case brevity is most certainly an asset. Marie comes directly to the point in the dozen vignettes used to illustrate her ongoing walk with Christ, from the personal (including one personal story concerning Marie's prideful, unChristian confrontation with another writer) to the parable. As with other devotionals, each chapter concludes with a relevant prayer called for the Lord's guidance in daily life.

In one favorite passage of Buttercups, the author compares herself to a cracked pot, imperfect yet able to serve God's purpose. This image best serves to describe what Marie hopes to relay, that despite our flaws our actions can produce the perfect reflection of Christ in our lives. Anybody doubting this will want to pick up Marie's inspirational Buttercups for Jesus.

Friday, March 7, 2003

Niamh and the Hermit by Emily Snyder

Arx Publishing, 1889758361, $14.95

Princess Niamh (pronounced Nee-EHV) is perhaps the greatest beauty of the Twelve Kingdoms, one whose loveliness radiates within and without so strongly that nobody in Castell Gwyr is able to appreciate it. Potential suitors have either died or gone mad at the slightest exposure to Niamh, leaving everyone in the kingdom of Maelgwynn, including King Gavron, to wonder how Niamh will be able to take a husband and keep alive the line of Siawn Shieldbearer.

The most logical solution to this problem comes to prove that opposites do indeed attract when it is suggested that Niamh be betrothed to a mysterious healer. Known only as Duncan, the bridegroom is a hermit with the head and tail of a lion, and the wings of an eagle. How or when Duncan came to be so enchanted (hexed?) is a mystery, though Gavron and the kingdom are relieved when Duncan accepts the offer of marriage. That there is true love evident between Niamh and her Hermit during a clandestine meeting should have bolstered the pending celebration, were it not for the presence of evil lurking about the kingdom.

Still nursing the loss of his son to Niamh's beauty, an avenging Count steals into the bride's chamber and convinces Niamh of a method to lessen her beauty in order to allow others to tolerate her presence. What happens instead is a physical transformation so radical that Niamh's parents mistakenly cast the horrid creature they discover out of the castle, unaware that they have expelled Niamh. No thanks to the Count's interference, Niamh's inner beauty is also deeply scarred, leaving fear and shame to take her on a journey through the far realms of the Twelve Kingdoms. Search parties are dispatched, and along with them goes Duncan to reclaim the bride who, having lost all happier memories, is reduced to being an "ashputtle girl," surviving by what wits are left.

Niamh and the Hermit is a rich narrative of various subplots which intertwine together to offer the reader a vivid look at author Snyder's gift for world-building: there are the courageous guards of Castell Gwyr, whose adventures beyond Maelgwynn are reminiscent of Tolkien's stories; loyal handmaid Elowen, who prizes Niamh's life above her own, and the troubled Hermit, whose inner demons prove to be more of a challenge than those preventing his destiny. The interworkings of fantasy and faith seamed nicely into the story.

The influences of Eddings, Lewis, and other writers of the genre are evident in Snyder's style, though Niamh is uniquely her own, an ambitious debut and highly recommended to fans of fanciful tales.

Praying in the Presence of Our Lord with Fulton J. Sheen by Michael Dubruiel

OSV Press, 0879737158, $8.95

One might hear the name Fulton Sheen and think, assuming the person knows of Sheen, that his words and works are no longer relevant. True, the archbishop has been dead for over twenty years, and original episodes of his inspirational television show, Life is Worth Living, aired in the 1950s on a network that no longer exists, but one must consider also that the Bible is and always will be relevant. So it is with Sheen's wisdom, as a young Army solider on a tour of duty in Turkey learned once when presented with a taped series of Sheen's inspirational talks. Indeed, as this solder-turned-author Michael Dubruiel stresses, Sheen's writings on faith are timeless, as was his devotion to Christ and to spreading his Good News.

Dubruiel offers in Praying in the Presence of the Lord with Fulton J. Sheen the opportunity to reacquaint the Sheen reader with some of the bishop's more memorable reflections. For the Sheen beginner, Presence is a welcome primer of over thirty sermonettes on redemption and reperation, having a relationship with Christ, and imitating His holiness. Each is concluded with Dubruiel's own reflections on Sheen's writing, along with suggested meditations and prayers.

That Presence concludes with Sheen's reflections on war and peace make this book especially valuable for the Christian reader. "In exiling God from our national life, our politics, oue economics, and our education, it was not His Heart we pierced - it was America we slew!" he writes of another war, yet these words are still applicable, and no doubt if Sheen live today he would encourage us to heed them.